Gunther Schuller On Book 3

Gunther-Schuller-photo 2

Gunther Schuller wrote two books about the history and development of jazz. The first, published by the Oxford University Press in 1968 was Early Jazz. The second —in 1989—was The Swing Era. They were detailed histories, deeply researched and bolstered with musical examples painstakingly annotated by Schuller as he listened to and analyzed thousands of recordings. Schuller died yesterday at 89 (see the previous Rifftides post). For 25 years listeners, musicians and scholars have been … [Read more...]

Farewell To Gunther Schuller

Gunther Schuller

Gunther Schuller, who was prominent in classical music and stimulated attention to a hybrid movement in jazz, died today in Boston. He was 89. In addition to his authorship of influential modern classical pieces, Schuller in the late 1950s melded jazz and classical influences and came up with a label for it that stuck: Third Stream. In the l960s and l970s he was president of the New England Conservatory. His classical composition “Of Reminiscences and Reflections” won a Pulitzer Prize in … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: James Moody, Flutist

James Moody, flute

One of the pre-eminent alto and tenor saxophonists of his time, James Moody (1925-2010) was also a flutist of extraordinary technique and imagination. Dozens of saxophonists have doubled on flute and a few—Sam Most, Eric Dolphy and Paul Horn, among them—have become as well-known for their flute playing as for their saxophone work. Moody was celebrated equally for both. For eight years in the 1960s and 1970s he was the other horn in Dizzy Gillespie’s quintet. From the mid-forties they … [Read more...]

Maria Schneider: The Thompson Fields


Maria Schneider Orchestra, The Thompson Fields (artistShare) Maria Schneider leads a band of eighteen of the best musicians in New York and keeps winning awards for being on the leading edge of composers and arrangers. Yet, her orchestra’s first album in eight years does not draw its primary inspiration from big city life or the yeasty New York jazz scene. The music reflects the peacefulness and the sometimes-volatile atmosphere of the heartland where she grew up. Memories of the small … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Antonio Sanchez

Sanchez 3X3 cover

Antonio Sanchez, Three Times Three (CamJazz) Sanchez is inevitably associated with his improvised solo drum sound track of last year’s hit film Birdman. The essential part he played in the movie brought him to the attention of millions unlikely to have known him from his work with Pat Metheny, Danilo Pérez and Miguel Zenón. Here, Sanchez collaborates with musicians from the top ranks of jazz who are masters at listening, adapting and melding. The three trios have different personalities, but … [Read more...]

Just Because: Evans, Konitz, NHØP & Dawson

Konitz and Evans

In the fall of 1965 pianist Bill Evans, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, bassist Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen and drummer Alan Dawson toured parts of Western Europe. It was both a time of Cold War tension and a time when jazz enjoyed popularity in every part of the continent. In countries behind the Iron Curtain, jazz devotees risked being caught at their shortwave radios listening to Willis Conover on the forbidden Voice of America. In Western Europe, nowhere was openness to jazz more evident than … [Read more...]

Ornette Coleman, 1930-2015

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman, whose forthrightness and conviction helped change the course of jazz, died today in New York. He was 85. To many, the alto saxophonist, composer and bandleader seemed to have come from nowhere, or outer space, when his first albums appeared in the late 1950s. In fact, his style—inevitably called ”iconoclastic” by his early critics, often with a sneer—grew out of Charlie Parker and Texas rhythm and blues. His music fell on some musicians’ closed ears, but to others it … [Read more...]

Getting Happy With Lester Young

Lester Young sepia tone

Sometimes I’m happy, but not when malicious adware captures the computer’s operating system and paralyzes it. As ArtsJournal commander in chief Doug McLennan informed you, the attack came a couple of days ago and we were unable to post. The computer is back from digital intensive care, and Rifftides is back in business. Let’s celebrate with one of Lester Young’s finest achievements, his Keynote recording of “Sometimes I’m Happy.” It ends with an eight-bar phrase that stands, after 71 years, as a … [Read more...]

A Tech Hiatus


Doug's computer is currently in intensive care at the local Apple store after succumbing to a nasty virus. The patient is expected to make a full recovery, but will be out of commission for a few days. Alas, this means that Doug himself will also be in the analog ward himself and RiffTides won't return until the Mac gods have been appeased. We wish them a speedy return. … [Read more...]

JazzWax On The Strazzeri Film


Marc Myers, as all explorers of the jazz blogosphere know, is the proprietor of JazzWax, a winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's Blog Of The Year award. He is the author of the valuable book Why Jazz Happened. He writes frequently for The Wall Street Journal on a range of arts-related topics. His frequent interviews and as-told-to articles in the Journal cover musicians, actors, sports figures and all manner of other interesting folks. I have asked Marc to divulge his formula for … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Andy Brown

Andy Brown

Andy Brown, Soloist (Delmark) In his liner note essay, Brown mentions ten guitarists he admires, some of them famous (Andres Segovia, Joe Pass, Chet Atkins), others heroes in the guitar community who are barely known to general audiences (Kenny Poole, Ted Greene). Having absorbed the work of all the players he credits with inspiration, Brown makes it plain that he has internalized their lessons and shaped an individual approach. Reminiscent of George Van Eps in terms of masterly chording and … [Read more...]

More Andy Brown

As an addendum to the Andy Brown recommendation in the previous exhibit, we have evidence that in addition to his achievement as a soloist, Brown plays well with others. The setting is a bookstore recital in Chicago in 2010 and a performance of “Cry Me a River.” His duo partner is Anat Cohen. … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Art Ensemble Of Chicago

Art Ensemble of Chicago copy

From the mid-1960s through the early years of this century, the Art Ensemble of Chicago crafted elements of free jazz into an ensemble personality that brought it extensive exposure. Often, as much attention went to the band’s costumes and makeup as to its wide range of influences from all eras of jazz and music of Africa, Asia, Latin America and other parts of the world. Apart from their primary instruments, the five musicians played an array of brass, reed, percussion and stringed instruments. … [Read more...]

Desmond…Not Forgotten, Not By A Long Shot


Thanks to the readers—far too many to send individual thank-you's—who responded to the weekend post about Paul Desmond. Your stories made great additions to the piece. The Rifftides staff is lucky to have you all along for the ride. To see the comments, which keep coming, go here and pan down. … [Read more...]

A Lew Soloff Memorial


Several prominent trumpet players and other well-known jazz artists are expected to perform next Monday in New York City at a memorial service for the late trumpeter Lew Soloff. Here is the announcement from the Manhattan School of Music. New York – A celebration of the life and music of Lew Soloff (Feb. 20, 1944-Mar 8, 2015) is scheduled for Monday, June 8, 2015 at the John C. Borden Auditorium, located at the Manhattan School of Music. This event is free to the public and begins at 7:00 … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Carmell Jones

Carmell Jones Quartet

Carmell Jones Quartet (Fresh Sound) Having proved himself in the jazz milieu of Kansas City, in 1960 the 24-year-old trumpeter Carmell Jones (1936-1996) quit his job as a railroad porter and moved to Los Angeles in search of full-time work in music. He was quick to impress bassist Red Mitchell, alto saxophonist Bud Shank and tenor saxophonist Harold Land. His recordings with them, with Gerald Wilson’s big band, and later with Art Blakey were to bring him attention and acclaim. Shortly after … [Read more...]

Paul Desmond: 38 Years

Des in Bronxille

Since Rifftides began, every year on May 30 I have posted something about Paul Desmond. He died thirty-eight years ago today. For reasons that I cannot clearly identify, this year I struggled with the idea. Until the last moment I put off the remembrance and finally concluded that the best option was to have Paul speak for himself with his playing. At the 1954 recording session for the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s album Brubeck Time, LIFE magazine photographer Gjon Mili shot the film you will see. … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Steps Ahead, Still Ahead

Steps Ahead

The modern jazz sub-genre called jazz fusion emerged in the 1960s, attracted a wide audience and received extensive radio air play through the second half of the twentieth century. The music combined elements of rhythm and blues, jazz, rock, funk and, often, time signatures that were challenging for both musicians and listeners. Fusion came in for criticism for traditionalists and purists. “Con-fusion, I call it,” the great bassist Gene Ramey once told me. Nonetheless, the category—like … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Today’s Cycling Expedition…

Cycling 1

…in 90-degree weather was illuminated by sun reflecting on clouds a few hours away from becoming thunderheads... (I managed to stay under 35 MPH). There were plenty of roadside attractions, including wildflowers blooming by a stream… …a monumental pump… …and a calf having lunch. It was a good ride. … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Tony Fruscella

Tony Fruscella

Tony Fruscella (Atlantic) Blogger and Rifftides reader JazzCookie commented that her Memorial Day song was “I’ll Be Seeing You.” That led to a reply including trumpeter Tony Fruscella’s 1955 recording of the Sammy Fain ballad. Frank Sinatra’s version with Tommy Dorsey had been a bestseller when millions of Americans were away fighting World War II. Fruscella made it the basis of a medium tempo excursion through the harmonies with no direct reference to Fain’s melody. Yet, in a masterpiece of … [Read more...]

Memorial Day

Memorial Day 2015

In an op-ed column in the weekend Wall Street Journal, Jerry Cianciolo urges readers to visit their local World War II memorials—nearly every town has one—look at the names, touch them and think about the sacrifices they symbolize. Hundreds of communities have monuments to American warriors who died in Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Cianciolo writes, Many young combatants who, as the English poet Laurence Binyon wrote, “fell with their faces to the foe” never set … [Read more...]

Ron Crotty, Bassist, 1929-2015


Following yesterday’s post about recently deceased musicians, a Rifftides reader who identifies himself only as Derrick sent a message: I just heard that Ron Crotty, the original bassist of The Dave Brubeck Quartet, died just a few days ago, too, but I have not seen anything written about it. Which leads me to ask, has Ron passed? Or is it another case of the internet burying someone who is still with us? The sad report that Derrick heard was accurate. Evidently, nothing has been … [Read more...]

Recent Passings: Belden, Lundvall, Zinsser, King

B.B. King

Rifftides was never meant to be an obituary service, but who might have expected that so many people of high accomplishment and value would die in a so short a period. Ignoring their departures would be impossible. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Death comes to all, but great achievements build a monument which shall endure until the sun grows cold.” That consoling thought applies to four men whom we have lost in the past several days. Bob Belden died yesterday of a massive heart attack at his … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Luis Perdomo, We Float

Perdomo Twenty-Two

Luis Perdomo, Twenty-Two (Hot Tone Music) The title observes the number of years since the pianist moved from his native Venezuela to New York City. In that time Perdomo has established a musical personality apart from the influential leaders for whom he has worked—Ray Barretto, Ravi Coltrane, Miguel Zenon, Brian Lynch among them. His early studies in New York with pianists Roland Hanna and Harold Danko, powerful teachers and examples, emphasized the importance of developing an … [Read more...]

That Old East Coast-West Coast Thing

charlie shoemake

Following yesterday’s Rifftides post announcing the Jazz Journalists Association poll winners, vibraharpist Charlie Shoemake commented: Randy Weston has had a long and distinguished career as have many of the other deserving award winners. Just curious, though, if any jazz artists from the west coast have ever been or ever will be recognized. It always seems in these things as though we’re an invisible group. One recent positive note, though. Four of my young students here on the … [Read more...]